Amid xenophobia, NGO attack on Rohingya airs on radio

Halim Ishak, founder and head of the Malaysian Community Care Foundation, in an interview with Bernama Radio on Thursday. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: The head of a local charity group, in a Bernama Radio interview, has attacked the Rohingya refugee community in Malaysia, describing them as dirty and ill-mannered.

However, an Islamic organisation chief has said the remarks were “very irresponsible and unfair”, and tantamount to being supportive of the Myanmar government’s military campaign against the Rohingyas.

The Bernama Radio interview, posted on Facebook on Thursday, comes amid a bout of xeonophobic attacks on the community, which comprises people of an ethnic minority in Myanmar who fled a genocidal campaign.

In the radio interview, Halim Ishak, who heads the Malaysian Community Care Foundation, urged the authorities to stop accommodating Rohingya refugees, saying they caused a lot of problems. He described them as illegal immigrants, disputing their accepted status as refugees from a genocidal Myanmar military campaign.

Halim Ishak, head of the Malaysian Community Care Foundation.

“The Rohingya people (here) cause many problems to the (Malaysian) people, if we look, every day there is an issue about the Rohingya.” He said that based on his observations at Selayang wholesale market, the Rohingya had poor hygiene.

“They are Rohingya ‘bukit’ (hill) sakai from where, even our Orang Asli have good manners,” he said. Describing himself as a former commando, he said that encounters with the Orang Asli had showed that they were more well mannered than the Rohingya.

“They (Rohingyas) have a problem with manners and culture, this race, most of them cheat and carry out illegal activities,” he said. He feared in the long run, their presence would lead to a new form of colonisation.

Halim also said he was angered by a statement attributed to Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani, who claims to be the head of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia. Zafar is alleged to have demanded citizenship for Rohinghyas and equal rights.

However, Zafar has made repeated denials of the demands attributed to him, which have been widely shared on social media leading to threats being made against him and the Rohingya community.

In the interview, Halim said he had started a petition with some friends, urging that the refugees be sent to a third-party country or back to Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, the main refugee camp where many Rohingyas have been housed after fleeing Myanmar.

Halim said: “The patience of Malaysians has its limits, we do not want Malaysians to take to the streets.” Those who believed that opposition to the Rohingya was cruel should “take in some of them” and look after them, he said.

Halim also criticised the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) saying it was ineffective in resolving the Rohingya problem.

Bernama Radio is an all-news station run by Bernama, the national news agency.

Mapim chief says Halim’s remarks amount to victimising the oppressed

Halim’s remarks later came under criticism from Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid, president of the Malaysian Islamic Organisations Consultative Council (Mapim).

Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid, president of the Malaysian Islamic Organisations Consultative Council (Mapim).

Asked by FMT about the interview, Azmi said he was concerned over the attacks on the Rohingya which the United Nations has described as the “most persecuted” ethnic group in the world.

“This is evidenced-based. If MCCF denies this, they are adopting a prejudiced and irrational attitude, and are carrying the narrative of the Myanmar regime. It is as if they agree with the regime.”

Azmi said claims of misdeeds by Rohingyas needed to be backed by evidence, and such evidence should be surrendered to the police; otherwise, such general claims amounted to victimising the oppressed.

“To accuse the Rohingya like that is very irresponsible and unfair,” he said.

He also urged the authorities not to remain silent as the current situation could lead to undesirable events. At the very least, he said, the authorities should come out and deny the fake news spread about the community or the fake claims attributed to Zafar.

The Malaysian authorities should urge the public to stop wrongful actions.

He also urged the mass media not to publish, broadcast, or perpetuate fake news because there were serious implications in their doing so.

“The Islamic concept of tabayyun is beautiful, it stops us from sharing something which is not true. Especially during Ramadan, we must be mindful of our words, actions, and not be slanderous,” he said.

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